Willem Dafoe in Karlovy Vary
The actor received an award and presented two of his films
Actor Willem Dafoe was among the first big stars to shine at the 51st Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, where he received a Crystal Globe for Outstanding Contribution to World Cinema.
He was at the festival to introduce two of his films, the recent biopic Pasolini, directed by Abel Ferrara, and The Last Temptation of Christ, a 1988 film by Martin Scorsese.
Dafoe told the press there were connections between the two film. Pier Paolo Pasolini was a controversial Italian filmmaker who was murdered in 1975.
As preparation for The Last Temptation, director Scorsese asked Dafoe to watch Pasolini’s film The Gospel according to Saint Matthew. Scorsese said he wanted to set aside all of the pageantry of other religions films. Otherwise, Scorsese did not give much instruction.
Dafoe was impressed with the script for The Last Temptation and was pleased to be involved in a project that the director had spent so long trying to get made. He did not expect the finished film to spark widespread protests and boycotts.
“It examines the human aspects of Jesus, the working-class aspect,” Dafoe said, adding he did not expect the controversy. The same elements were in Pasolini’s film as well.
In the end, Dafoe’s role as Jesus cost him some other acting jobs. He did not want to name them, but one was a Western. The producers did not want the controversy to carry over.
Dafoe had a lot of praise for the person Pasolini, and said he was a fan not only of his films but also of his poetry and critical essays. “Some of his ideas stay with me,” he said. According to Dafoe, Pasolini back in the mid-1970s imagined something like the internet, with people becoming more socially interconnected.
He also praised Pasolini for his open mind. While Pasolini was a communist, he also opposed communists on several topics. He was criticized at times for siding with the police against students, as well, even though he was a social activist. But he always remained true to himself. “He didn’t get corrupted,” Dafoe said.
In some ways, Dafoe prefers working on lower-budget art films, but he declined to compare big action and comic-book films to art films. “Every film is different,” he said.
The problem with big-budget film is that too many people are involved to ensure that there is a return on the investment. That makes it harder for a director to make a personal and intimate statement.
“I prefer movies that challenge how you think,” he said. Big budget films, though, are usually geared to create entertainment and diversion, and more people prefer that kind of film.
Still, he is happy to have been in films like Spider-Man, where be played the Green Goblin. “If people don’t see you for a long time on the screen it is not good for your career,” he said. The way films are distributed now, only big-budget films get wide distribution.
He is also currently filming The Justice League, another comic-book film, but he said it was too early to give any details.
An art film he is noted for is Antichrist, from director Lars von Trier. “I love working with Lars von Trier,” he said. Originally, von Trier just asked Dafoe to look at the script because he was unsure of it. Dafoe loved the script and urged von Trier to make the film. Eventually, von Trier asked Dafoe to appear in the film.
Von Trier creates a space where actors have a lot of freedom, Dafoe said, adding that he has learned a lot from the director. It was also a dark time in von Trier’s life, which made the production challenging.
Dafoe’s first acting role was in Heaven’s Gate, a 1980 Western that is famous for going massively over budget and being a box office disaster. Director Michael Cimino passed away on July 2.
“He actually fired me from the film, but there were no hard feelings,” Dafoe said. “But we made up later.” Cimino asked Dafoe to work with him later on other projects, but he couldn’t due to scheduling conflicts.
Dafoe lamented that Heaven’s Gate marked the end of “auteur cinema,” where a director could make personal statements in big studio films. After the box office failure of Heaven’s Gate, the bean counters took over, Dafoe said, making the financial bottom line more important than any kind of cinematic statement.
Cimino was continually punished by Hollywood as well, Dafoe said. “His last real film was Sunchaser,” he added. Sunchaser came out in 1996 and earned just $21,508 at the box office.
Finally, Dafoe had praise for the Karlovy Vary festival. “I have heard about it for a long time,” he said, adding he was very pleased to accept the invitation to attend. He pointed out that there is no film market, so it is not an industry event but one that is open to fans and the public, which makes it unusual. He also praised the city and its inhabitants for being very beautiful.
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